“Autobiography is like chocolate for the brain.”

I’ve just finished reading Dr. Gene Cohen’s The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain. Talk about sweet food for thought!

In Dr. Cohen’s book, published in 2005, he teaches us much about the rich possibilities for the life of the mind in the later stages of adulthood. He’s identified four phases of development in later life that, if we recognize and work with their strengths, allow us to turn life after 50 into a time of growth and creative fulfillment. These include Midlife Reevaluation, Liberation, Summing Up, and Encore.

The third, “Summing Up,” he describes as a phase in which we experience the urge to review life and in the process, give to those around us. Autobiography is the natural expression of this urge.

Cohen is a brain scientist, so he explains this in terms of brain studies. You may or may not be fascinated to know that in later life you begin using both brain hemispheres, with better coordination between them. Cohen writes:

I hypothesize that using both hippocampi during recall of life events creates a richer, more vivid experience because the brain is drawing on a broader palette of resources for the task. The intuitive, holistic, and nonverbal brain skills that typically reside in the right hemisphere can bring an added benefit to the task of memory recall. Using both hippocampi may also simply make recollection itself a more vivid and pleasurable activity. I think the brain, in effect, relishes the chance to deal with autobiography in later life–and to do so using both engines, so to speak. I see autobiography and the larger processes and behaviors of summing up as a bit like chocolate to the brain in later life–a sumptuous activity.”

Reading Cohen’s words, I get excited about discovering the developmental intelligence that comes with richer life experience–and applying it to my writing. You too?

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About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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One Response to “Autobiography is like chocolate for the brain.”

  1. Linda Thomas says:

    Fascinating. I’d never heard of that before. I’ll share a link on my memoir Facebook Page.

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